Just as restrictions began to lift again and we were hopeful of feeling some sense of normality once more, the news of the utter devastation happening in Ukraine has shaken us all. Over the past month or so, we have watched the news with feelings of dread and hopelessness, and, even if we do not have direct personal connections with those affected, it is natural to feel distressed, upset, and helpless about all that is going on in the world.
Whilst we are lucky enough to be able to wrap our children up in love, warmth, and feelings of safety, there is no denying the fact that, for our children, the world has never felt so uncertain, so out of control and so scary.
Naturally, this can leave our children and teens questioning how safe they really are, causing stress and worry to spiral out of control. As Youth Fairies, we have seen an increase in the number of children being affected by world events, causing feelings of extreme anxiety, stress, and low mood. With this week’s blog, it is our hope that we can arm you as parents with a wealth of knowledge and tips that you can use to help support your child at home if they are experiencing these feelings of stress too.
So, to begin with, let’s take a look at our Circle of Control, sometimes referred to as the Circle of Influence.
The Circle of Influence was first created by Stephen Covey as a way of reminding us to focus on the things that we can control, rather than the things we cannot. All events sit within one of the three zones in this circle. Things we can control might include what we wear, the things we eat, the friends we have, or how we choose to spend some of our free time.
The things that are out of our control tend to involve world events. Things like war and natural disasters, for example, are out of our control and also sit outside of our circle of influence. In other words, there is little in our control that we can do to stop or affect the situation. There are; however, things we can do to help minimise some of the negative effects it has on us.
So how does this impact our children’s stress levels?
- When something that upsets us feels out of our control, stress and anxiety can set in. Children can very often begin to catastrophise and think of the worst possible scenario imaginable.
- As this negative thinking comes from the primitive ‘fight or flight’ mind, rather than the more intellectual and rational part of the brain, children tend to dwell on these thoughts and imagine them over and over again, thereby creating feelings of anxiety. As they are feeling more anxious, their primitive brain puts them on ‘high alert’ and they begin to experience the physiological symptoms of anxiety and stress: increased heart rate, digestive problems, skin complaints, irritability, anger outbursts, withdrawal from friends and family – to name just a few.
- These physiological symptoms keep children stuck in that cycle of thinking. And so, the negative cycle continues.
On the other hand, if we help children to begin to focus more on the middle circle, their circle of influence, they can begin to feel safer and more in control, allowing their primitive ‘fight or flight’ mind to settle, reducing feelings of stress and anxiety.
It is in this circle of influence that children realise there are small actions they can take that can make a difference in how they feel. You can support your child by helping them to find actions within this that they can take and that feel right for them, such as:
- Try to limit the amount of news your child watches. Whilst it’s important for children to know about world events, spending too much time checking up on the news can be unhealthy and encourage feelings of stress and anxiety. Instead, try to encourage your child to spend no longer than 30 minutes reading or watching the news and, if younger, less than this. Consider also child-friendly news options such as BBC Newsround.
- Have open conversations. Don’t be afraid to share age-appropriate facts with your child about what is happening in the world. It can be a natural tendency as a parent to want to shield our children from negative news but the likelihood is that their friends and peers will be talking about it and so our children will naturally have questions and be curious. Having open discussions with your child allows them the space to voice these concerns or questions whilst giving you the opportunity to share facts and dispel any rumours or ‘fake news’ that can very often circulate and fuel feelings of anxiety.
- Be aware of your own reactions. In the midst of a crisis, children look to us as adults to help them navigate through the situation and understand how best to respond. Children absorb so much of our own emotions and they notice so much more than we often realise. Limiting the amount of news we watch ourselves or avoiding talking about worrying events with others in front of our children can be really helpful in lessening their stress levels.
- Explore ways you can help. There have been so many acts of kindness and compassion that people have shared to help raise money for the people of Ukraine or to support someone in need more directly. Spending time looking at ways you and your child can help can be hugely empowering as it’s a reminder that we can still make a positive difference.
- Remind teenagers about their choices on social media. For older children and teenagers with social media accounts, it can be hard to switch off from their news feeds. Support them in setting time limits on how much social media they engage in or not to use it at a certain time, such as before bed. Remind them also that they always have a choice to ‘unfollow’ accounts that make them feel uncomfortable and perhaps encourage them to follow accounts that lift their mood instead!
- Stick to a routine. When everything around us feels uncertain, routines help to keep children feel safe by giving them the sense of feeling more in control and knowing what to expect. This could be from bedtime routines to meal times to activities outside of school.
- Remember to keep engaging in positive actions. If your child has already worked with one of the Youth Fairies, you will know how important positive actions are in helping children to develop a more positive mindset. Write up a list of activities with your child that they enjoy and encourage them to do more of what makes them feel happy. This could be built into your child’s routine or it could be a list of things they look back on when they need a reminder of what they can do to refocus their thoughts toward something more positive.
It is so important for our children’s mental health and well-being that with the inevitable ups and downs that life brings that we can support them in focusing on the things they can control and influence, rather than the things they cannot.
If you would like further help and support for your child, you can contact your nearest therapist at The Youth Fairy by visiting:
You can also find further help and guidance at: